Reboot

From my first philosophical entries up to the latest poetic musings, two themes have kept recurring, defining me in a feverish way: the necessity of ethics and the sanctity of the individual. I suppose I tend towards these themes so forcefully due to their lost importance in this out of whack world of politics as predatory sport and academic rigor mortis.  Even the locked-in devices from which I strive to compose my thoughts provoke some response.  Ethics and individualism are quickly eroding away, a battle taking place inside of me as much as out.  The modern world is not all bad of course, and to an extent I accept what it gives as inevitable and sometimes necessary agitations, to be the gadflies stirring me awake lest I become too fanatic about my solitary ideas.  I live in the world I indict, let the record show I am aware of this surface hypocrisy, but in my defense, asceticism is not an option, not an ethical one at least.  One cannot help but speak the language provided and get caught in its web (when you play by their rules they have already won).

Every so often I break down and need to establish a perimeter of words to (however naïvely) preserve my sacred space.  And so the rant goes…

At some point it was no longer a question of having something to say and someone to process it.  It is still language, it is still talking and writing and reading, but what has changed is the goal: where once the text mattered, the subtext now dominates. Each utterance has become a territorial pissing that taunts the yet to be expressed to do the same.  Like pups stepping over each other for the same teat, to be there first, we pivot our value around the concept of outward acknowledgement: the more followers, the more reblogs, the more likes, and then the next day you start over again, you keep going back daily, hourly, at speeds incommensurable with quality or craftsmanship - just be there first.  We go at these speeds not because we have so much to say, but because we feel the need to remain relevant, as if we would dissolve entirely without a status update. With no time to cultivate an inner life outside of the exhibition, a whole generation has been raised in this accelerating culture, and, if nothing changes, they will raise the next generation in the only manner they have been taught, refining away any semblance of the individual.  It is in the hesitations, the individual resides.

The flaw we bear is not recognizing that it is a choice, and how this choice comes to inform not just our online personas but our perception of what is valuable, and ethical, and reasonable in every facet of human activity.  It is simple but so rarely given voice:  you don’t need to prove yourself to the world, if anything the world needs to prove itself to you.  If it has value, it should radiate inside you and ask nothing more than that you find your own path of least resistance.  Find happiness irrespective of how minor it may seem.  

To some this is self-delusion; to me, self-clarity.  There is a seductive inclination to be defined one way or the other, supplant one narrative for another: if not the academic marvel than the starving artist, if not the wealthy than the ascetic. It is considered a slight to call someone a jack of all trades, to weave through life without a pliable narrative that may be socially digested.  The flaw is in thinking in regards to a narrative foremost, being overly concerned with how you are read, rather than reading yourself out and editing away to your own familiar voice.  Abandon all narratives and follow your childish instinct to play.  Use whatever capacities you have to offset roadblocks to this pursuit.  Rather, see more clearly your goal, how little is required to be happy once you have whittled away the antagonisms (competition and antagonism reduced to sport).  A clarity of self sees that one lives every day through peaks and valleys of relative satisfaction, that one lives in the crevices of stories not the well-rehearsed anecdotes and finding a way to live pleasurably in the immediate and not the secondhand account ought to be the true occupation of your life. This kind of thinking may derail the ten year plan, the jockeying for position if such a position is in service only of keeping you busy and hungry for the carrot dangled in font of you.  So be it.  Defy the anecdotal life.

The pleasure of life has become secondary, what good is it to fight for a future when the present goes unopened?  Why forfeit the now, and the ability to ferret out the good in every moment?  A resourceful inner life stays with you no matter the climate, protects you better than an army. But here the rhetoric begs an antagonism I must step back from, for it is not either/or, but weaving through with a part of you always alive and playful, being the justification for any pursuit for higher level petitioning, having something to show for, something to call upon rather than empty rhetoric.  When you say life is important, dignity is important, basic human rights are important you should not meme the idea, but hold yourself up as material evidence.  It is so easy to become the ghost haunting a body still alive, to ghost all values in pursuit of some nominal gain.  It is scary how easy it is to cease to be a person and become a personage: the body dies and people can see it, smell it; when the life inside it dies it can go a lifetime unreported so long as a rudimentary set of outward markers are achieved.

Take pride in being a slacker, a jack of all trades, a melancholic, a resigned member of a society that is in such a big hurry to say nothing long enough for you to forget there is anything else to think, feel, or be.  A toast to all the thoughts left unsaid, and to those thoughts that if uttered, would still go unheard.

‘Embracing ethics’ means putting uncertainty at the centre of our lives… Again and again over the last 2,500 years we have been subjected to the assertion that reason alone allows us to identify and use ethics. The intention has often been good. But the effect, each time, has been to turn ethics into a creature of reason. If anything, it is reason which can be made reasonable if seen in the reflection of ethics.

On Equilibrium, John Ralston Saul (2002, pg 84,90)

(via rigmaroler)

An ethical problem arises when someone is put in charge. Greenspan’s actions were harmful, but even if he knew that, it would have taken a bit of heroic courage to justify inaction in a democracy where the incentive is to always promise a better outcome than the other guy, regardless of the actual, delayed cost.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Antifragility 

Summing up succinctly the chief flaw of our modern democratic system.  

Scientific Philosophy & Morality

s33:

Scientific Philosophy.

An interview with Professor Massimo Pigliucci on the benefits of combining scientific fact gathering with philosophical introspection. He is the author of the book:

Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life

I’m glad to see more consideration for philosophical thought in connection with the interpretation of science. He mentions Hume’s distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’, to point out how the existence of scientific fact does not, in and of itself, compel us toward any particular moral code.  No matter what science can tell us something ‘is’, the question  of what ought to be done about it still remains up for us to decide.

I am torn between wanting to applaud this effort at synthesizing empirical and rational epistemology, and I do, as far as it goes. Professor Pigliucci seems to express here a voice of well reasoned compatibilism, and to extend this reason to the subject matter itself. It is here where I am more critical of this approach, although in the contemporary context it is very much within the intellectual consensus.

While it is indeed a profound shift from pre-scientific moralism to expound a relativistic-existential world where we are each called upon to build our own meaning and morals, I find that this is not the whole picture. Rather than a neat, compartmentalized notion of reasoning which can be traced back to evolutionary biology and neuroscience in all cases, I see much more of a momentum of perception and participation, with universe as theater. This is not to suggest a naive idealism – indeed genetics and biochemistry are overwhelmingly powerful influences in staging our personal slice of the universal theater, but morality cannot be understood with toy models of social relation. The grip of morality on the individual, society, and species is far more visceral and irrational – made of shame and disgust, of soaring pride and worshipful appreciation of superlative qualities. To understand morality is to plumb the depths of myth – of monstrous crimes and the horrific images associated with them.

I think the distinction between the good, the bad, and the ugly is one which ultimately splits along the primary fault of consciousness, which I call sense and motive, or afferent vs efferent phenomenology. The afferent mode is our sensory input, our receptivity to beautiful and awful feelings, while the efferent mode is our motive output – our projection of selfish or enlightened actions in the world. This dyad-dialectic is primordial and intertwined so that our morality often uses one to justify the other. In movies, evil is typically represented by ugly characters in dark costumes. Throughout history people have been persecuted as witches or subhumans based on aesthetic prejudices.

It is interesting, in the wake of the horrors of the 20th century, despite being bombarded with evidence of the banality of evil, we are still surprised to find the most obscene crimes being committed by seemingly ordinary people, including priests, housewives, and police officers.  Despite the noticeable lack of organized violence by fringe groups professing interest in magick, loud anti-social music, and extreme body modification, such otherwise ordinary people are often treated with moral suspicion. This double standard, which I think arises from the unconscious equivalence between taboo perceptual themes and transgressive actions is beyond neurology and evolutionary biology and follows from experience itself.

Evolutionary biology can certainly help explain why the contents of taboo themes, which often deal with morbidity, mortality, and sexuality would tend to be associated with a repulsive affect by default, but it does not explain the specific content of that affect. It does not tell us about what fear is and what it tells us about ourselves. It is great to be able to quiet the mind’s questions with reassurances about neurotransmitter interactions and references to particular regions of the brain, but this approach can also cast us in the role of explaining away ourselves. By oversignifying the sub-personal and super-personal levels of our physical mechanism, the personal level of our native experience is depersonalized and robbed of its significance.

To talk about love and fear in terms of neuropeptide cocktails is all well and good for medical purposes, but the unfolding of a human identity in a human life is not so easily reduced into an exercise of forensic pathology. For anyone who has experienced powerfully significant moments in their life, it is not enough to hold up a molecule or a flowchart of hominid foraging, because the experience goes well beyond how one feels personally. Love and fear appear to operate transpersonally, to ‘warp the luck plane’ as it were, inviting unusual synchronicities and dramatic confrontations with would not occur otherwise. Our life, it would seem, can be known to us as a kind of organism made of events, of significance through time.

At this point, I think it might be career suicide for a scientist or philosopher to bring up these ideas (even though they have enjoyed popularity in the the 20th century), so I do not expect to see them in print. I hope that this will change soon, but in the mean time, I am glad that people are beginning to at least see a glimmer of a role again for the mind of the individual.

Mindwalk

Sonia:

“We have to give importance to the next generation, and the next. It was only when we failed to include them in our scientific theories, and in our pursuit of growth that we placed all living systems in jeopardy. Just contemplate that horrifying fact that we are leaving to our children the most poisonous of wastes: plutonium. It’s going to remain poisonous for the next generation, and the next, and the next. In fact, it’s going to remain poisonous for half a million years. We should never have accepted that theory “Knowledge is power.” We should never have accepted the idea that what’s good for General Motors is good for America. We need a sustainable society. One in which our needs are being satisfied without diminishing the possibilities of the next generation. You’re asking me—You’re asking me what should you do? I don’t know what you should do. You know what you should do. I know that what worked for me was to come here, be quiet, and take one thing at a time, think one thought to its end. Now, that was my first real step. Telling you was my second.” High-res

Mindwalk

Sonia:

“We have to give importance to the next generation, and the next. It was only when we failed to include them in our scientific theories, and in our pursuit of growth that we placed all living systems in jeopardy. Just contemplate that horrifying fact that we are leaving to our children the most poisonous of wastes: plutonium. It’s going to remain poisonous for the next generation, and the next, and the next. In fact, it’s going to remain poisonous for half a million years. We should never have accepted that theory “Knowledge is power.” We should never have accepted the idea that what’s good for General Motors is good for America. We need a sustainable society. One in which our needs are being satisfied without diminishing the possibilities of the next generation. You’re asking me—You’re asking me what should you do? I don’t know what you should do. You know what you should do. I know that what worked for me was to come here, be quiet, and take one thing at a time, think one thought to its end. Now, that was my first real step. Telling you was my second.”

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the 2% Fallacy

Two propositions:

1) Any three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. 

2) Science informs us of the structure of the common reality we all inhabit, and which for the large part exists independent of what people say and think of it.

Both of are ‘reasonable’ but not interchangeably so.  Let’s disregard the common analytic/synthetic dichotmy between these propositions (see Immanuel Kant note at bottom of post), not because I disagree with Kant just that I do not find that division very illuminating for the topic at hand.  These two propositions of reason are distinct in another way: the first derives its truth-value from an abstract formal system analysis whereas the second does not.  The truth-value in proposition 2 is, I will argue, born out of mental deliberation.  While we tend to use the same word to denote both reasoning as an abstract process and reasoning as a mental activity the two usages are grammatically incommensurable. A formal system, insofar as it is self-consistent, demands rigid adherence to articulated rules, whereas mental deliberation, an admittedly muddled description of a cognitive event, allows unfiltered intuitive judgment to affect analysis.  One could also describe this distinction as one between the abstract and the existential aspects of ‘reasoning’.  

The allure of analytic reasoning is that it can demonstrate its proofs step by step in accordance with the formal system it applies to, delineated by the rules of the  inference imposed.   Existential reason has no such clear divisions built into its process of mediation (in the act of deliberation the rules of inference are only half-glimpsed). 

Proposition 1 fits the first category, abstract reason, in that the truth-value can be determined formally within the boundaries set by Euclidean geometry.  There is no coinciding formal system which can sufficiently prove proposition 2 because it pertains to an existentially-derived rationalization, using an ad hoc reasoning that is enabled by intuitive judgment (I will return to this point).  The aforementioned grammatical error occurs when one blurs the two kinds of reasoning, treating the mental act of reasoning as synonymous with the integrity of formal abstractions.  Perhaps as a consequence of the allure of the hard sciences, the rational component of the mental act becomes more pronounced even when it lacks essential soundness.

The mistaken rationalist may argue, for example, that while something like 2% intuition is involved in the determining process of proposition 2 - as the leap of faith necessary to draw the associations between the abstracted proofs with the existential reality - there remains 98% remaining authority of the articulated proofs that carry over and justify the decision. This is a complete misunderstanding of how formal reasoning derives its authority.  Bridging the gap between the formal system and the existential world is a derived rule which lacks the formal authority of the proofs it is supposed to enable.  Another way to put this would be to say the external applicability of a formal proof is nowhere authorized by the proof.  The derived rule is the leap of faith which entirely enables the real-world application of the formal reasoning.  Therefore without the 2% involvement of intuition one does not have 98% soundness to the external application of the formal proof, one has zero percent.

Let me describe this a different way: suppose a formal system of logic was programmed into a computer and the rules of inference, the axioms, the theorems were all clearly laid out so as to delineate the boundaries of which the system could necessarily comprehend.  Considering this formalism was a logical one requiring self-consistency it would tend to adopt as some of its rules of inferences the law of bivalence and the law of non-contradiction, and further abstractions could be imposed depending on the end desire of the content.  Terms would be clearly defined so as to prevent passive connotations of their common parlance to infect the integrity of the formalism (this is an inevitable difficulty of linguistic calculus, something even Euclidean was done in by in his geometry).  Already there is a disparity emerging between language in its lived sense of expression and what is required for the sake of the formal system. 

Now suppose we input into this computer program an existential question, i.e. a question that pertains to our direct experience of reality, one which is not filtered for the needs of the program, say: is there such thing as a soul? Can a formalized set of rules sufficiently interpret the semantic meaning of the term ‘soul’?  If there had been some term denoted ‘soul’ within the program it could not have any property that extended beyond the limits of the rules of inference, nor that had passive connotations.  It would be a semantic error to call such a thing ‘soul’ as it is abstracted from, and therefore filtered from, its experiential context.    Such a computer program expression of soul is merely nominal, in word only, having excluded from its potential expression all characteristics that are associated with it pre-abstraction.  The formalized ‘soul’ could only tautologically describe itself in parody of what it is supposed to signify.  Were the system sophisticated enough to identify this disparity it would respond with a syntax (semantic) error, a zero sum output.  There would be no partial formal value to be salvaged from the experiment that could then substantiate the meaning of ‘soul’ as it exists outside of the system.  The limited understanding of language and concepts used inside the formal system would have no precedent for the language of the external, existential question, and in a very real way could not elicit a response.  What bridges this disparity is not something inside the formal system but something without.

Due to our lack of such a puritanical computational system at our disposal when ad hoc formal analysis is done in our minds, we tend to confuse the abstract and existential aspects of what it is ‘to reason’ or ‘understand something as reasonable’ when justifying a belief.  Authorities are isomorphically carried over where there would have only been error messages.  The half-glimpsed boundaries of the system get blurred and the output, while perhaps seeming rationally convincing, consists of a combination of analytic and intuitive sources of knowing.  This other source is sometimes thought of as intuition, instinct, tacit knowledge, morality, etc.  Although the source of authentication is all too often irrational this does not exclude the possibility that it is mediated in such a way as to be consistent and tied with objective rules beyond our comprehension.  What is deemed irrational may only be a small part of the whole we can view critically, our limited scope of the formal system (if one exists) which extends far beyond our ability to grasp rationally.  Much more emphasis needs to be placed on this instinctual component of our judgments, of which abstract reasoning is only a small component. 

Returning to the original propositions:

proposition 1 is right insofar as it adheres to the rules within a clearly defined formal system.  It satisfies the rules of an abstract reason.

proposition 2 is right or wrong insofar as we glean the truth-value of the statement from our existential reasoning, a reasoning that is affected by intuitive judgment.

Similarly, any reason-based argument which attempts to disprove the existence of the soul overextends the integrity of its logic, mistaking the rationale as something formally sound when in fact it is entirely informal and thus incommensurable with the alleged proofs.  Though incommensurable this does not exclude the possibility that some sort of purposeful agreement can occur implicitly between the ‘proofs’ and the mental act of conviction.  That which is valuable in the sciences depends on it.  

Additional Note:

[Immanuel Kant had formulated two distinct categories of judgments: analytic and synthetic.  An analytic judgment is one that does not add anything to what is included in the concept (a simple reiterating subject predicate relationship, i.e. all bachelors are unmarried).  A synthetic judgment is one which extends beyond the concept, wherein the predicate adds something not already included in the definition of the subject, usually as a result of an empirical observation (i.e. water boils at 100 C).  Another way to think of it is an analytic judgment is one based on a tautology (or contradiction), self-describing itself, whereas a synthetic judgment associates a concept with something outside its definition.  It is not the greatest distinction and it has lead to some pretty murky philosophical digressions, and so I bring it up only to indicate that I am aware of it, but I prefer my distinctions.]

On the Privilege of Ethics and Belief

[This post is for a particular person, posted here for convenience to read]

As we are both anti-realists, what I propose is a thought experiment where we both allow logic temporary validity, and for worldviews to be conceptual, capable of being critiqued as concepts.

If it cannot do this, if the authority of its claims are not logic-based, the edifice falls to the level of all ideologies, enforced by belief. (A side-note: relativism is not an ideology because it makes no claims of universality.  There is no either/or, ‘things’ can be either and or).  

The crux of my logical argument:

Man’s capacity for knowing exceeds the self-imposed limitations of understanding enforced by the scientific method.

K > k where k is a subset of K

furthermore

subset k is not able to deduce the value of K by means of its own processed conclusions because it is ALWAYS self-limiting of criteria.  This is the tautology.

k can only speak of the k in K, or in other-words, itself.  (Even if you didn’t like the word ‘knowledge’, use ‘perspective’ - it is less accurate, but gives you the same fallacy).  

Any attempt to reduce my argument to fuzzy metaphysics is self-indicting, because the concept of knowledge is evoked in your own theory.  We both take the concept of knowledge as permissible irrespective of the fact that it implies a fuzzy notion of comprehension - we are talking about ‘knowledge’ from a human perspective are we not?  If you wish to speak only of computational knowledge and dispense with Being altogether, then we can talk about the nature of knowledge within an AI computer.  Otherwise, talking strictly of Being-processed information, and the capacities to intuit what has meaning, and why, there is no logical argument for k to prescribe the limits of K - it prescribes the limits of itself. Now k can contribute to a prescription of certain corporeal truisms, but every time it tries to stare into the sun of Being it is blinded.  

Regarding all talk of the ‘demarcation problem of science’: the aim of that philosophical inquiry is to make a division between science and pseudoscience, the problems philosophers have come up against in doing so is including all the ‘good’ science under one methodology, here it is a question of the completeness of definition.  Nothing I am talking about pertains to that.  I choose the atomic approach, if you will: what essential ingredients are needed without which the bulk of science-doing cannot exist?  Answer: formal system(s)-plus-interpretation.  Or to unpack it clearly:  the application of one or more formal systems of analysis (i.e. geometry, algebra, statistics, unified measurements, etc.) plus an interpretation of so-called ‘real-world’ phenomena.  By virtue of this methodological quality of science-doing we can properly frame its proofs (this position more fully articulated  here).

so,

EVEN if you wanted to include (what I deem) laissez-faire empiricism, i.e. being able to deduce that the sun will rise tomorrow as ‘legitimate science’ I don’t care, nor would it disprove my position.  In which case I would say, fine, keep those forms of ‘science’, let that be the science you build your theory on.  Everything else is culpable.  Go about disproving the lack of value of any opposing theories of knowledge by using one fuzzy form of comprehension over another.  The best it can do is establish some basic truisms of objective/subjective divisions, of primitive physical properties of things, it cannot claim logical dominance over parallel (i.e. non-competing) interpretations of knowing.  Faith and reason are not in competition as they abide by separate means of authentication.

When one comes to accept anti-realism as the inevitable consequence of the illogical first premises of all positions, faith-based sentiments are no less true than reason-based ones.  This is not an inevitable endorsement of nihilism, nor any position that insists upon ‘anything goes’ with complete freedom.  Just to say that, in the absence of certainty and with what faculties of knowing at our disposal, we may self-configure.

This is my position.  One chief difference between our positions appears to be that I see as nearly certain the likelihood that I am an individual, that knowing is foremost an individual process.  There may be a common world out there, and by habit and empirical observation it satisfies me to behave as if there is most of the time, but the burden of knowing is individual, how I sense the world is more than by map-making, because I sense also being, emotions, that pesky humanity you talk of.  It is as a human being I self-configure.  I do not see the goal of living to be acquiring knowledge for it’s own sake, or to continue to make maps beyond my need.  My needs are individual, human.  Without certainty to bully me, I choose to self-configure away from the conclusions of what I see as an autistic impulse of man, towards a handicapped form of proof, and from that, belief of knowledge. This is not to say all of the conclusions arrived at via this approach are wrong, just unsuitably contextualized.  The parenthesis of meaning too rigidly fixed.  I believe individual interpretation is required, to remove the handicap of one kind of proof-making, and sense out the right measure.

Part of that right measure is the re-authenticating of any science-derived knowledge according to indwelling ethics that are individually gleaned.  What I am saying is Being is not merely a quantitative piece of phenomena, here is the fallacy.  Ethics always pertains to Being, there is no ethics if Being is not privileged.  Otherwise, you have an ethics in service wholly of an ideology.    

It seems you have lost the first premise of your argument, you have buried the Being of it, subverted language so as to limit the concept of ‘knowledge’ to be only computational, and have described the ethics of a robot.  




 

‘Embracing ethics’ means putting uncertainty at the centre of our lives… Again and again over the last 2,500 years we have been subjected to the assertion that reason alone allows us to identify and use ethics. The intention has often been good. But the effect, each time, has been to turn ethics into a creature of reason. If anything, it is reason which can be made reasonable if seen in the reflection of ethics.

On Equilibrium, John Ralston Saul (2002, pg 84,90)

(via rigmaroler)

An infinite number of lumps of sugar put into Mr. Bentham’s artificial ethical scales would never weigh against the pounds of human flesh, or drops of human blood, that are sacrificed to produce them. The taste of the former on the palate is evanescent; but the others sit heavy on the soul. The one is an object to the imagination: the others only to the understanding. But man is animal compounded both of imagination and understanding; and, in treating of what is good for man’s nature, it is necessary to consider both. A calculation of the mere ultimate advantages, without regard to natural feelings and affections, may improve the external face and physical comforts of society, but will leave it heartless and worthless in itself. In a word, the sympathy of the individual with the consequences of his own act is to be attended to (no less than the consequences themselves) in every sound system of mortality; and this must be determined by certain natural laws of the human mind, and not by rules of logic or arithmetic.

William Hazlitt, from the essay “On Reason and Imagination” in the book “On the Pleasure of Hating“, Penguin Books, Great Ideas, 2004. (via cleverbeast)

(via rigmaroler)

The Fallout

I once spent a day in San Francisco.  I was queasy on the taxi ride in and saw more of the toilet bowl than the shoreline.  Everything was wet and smelled of fish. Impossible angles and broken horizons, like a cubist painting brought to life. Too beautiful to live there, too dangerous too.  I left just before the Japan tsunami hit, and on television, at home, I watched as the San Francisco area felt the faintest ripple of waves, a gentle reminder of calamities happening elsewhere.  The story faded and people went on with their busy lives.  A year later, flotsam from the tsunami started to pile in on the Pacific coast, motorcycles and piers, to lay down on beaches as exhibits for a case never made.  Bulky objects that had to be towed away, with everything to declare. They said: Fukushima still burns. The ocean stubbornly refused to censor what it knew, and what we try to bury in words has a way of floating to the surface eventually. Miles and miles and miles, a run-on sentence that, given enough time, lands its point. I was a tourist, but I live here now, in San Francisco and Fukushima.  And when I breathe in your cancer, I exhale it as poetry.

Commonsenseless

There surfaces a naive assumption: if the complicated machinery that fuels nations is operating than it is working according to some well-considered plan by virtue of it working at all.  What is overlooked is the character of power, how it changes the equation of commonsense.  The larger the problem the less likely you are to hear about it.  Of the magnitude of systematic collapse you will hear not at all, for no partisan side wishes their own demise in the inevitable chaos to ensue.  And so, the failures are silenced though they accumulate, the points of disagreement work within the arena of power and are of such suitable insignificance as to raise the ire of the partisan, yet another cog in the machine.  The choices keep the illusion of freedom alive and people continue to go to work and buy things they don’t require and the marvel of the machinery instills a confidence and assurance that things operate according to plan. Each denial keeping the whole running until the burdensome nature of reality intervenes to such a point that it ceases to be contained.  Even then it will be blamed on some unforeseen act of insurgence, and since no one wants to be played the fool, each will agree quickly.  What came before will be seen as a Golden Age, something to aspire towards, and the powerful will be the first to resurrect the myth.  

Until we look the nature of power in the face and see it for what it is, nothing will change. Until education is valued more so than competition and the soul of the individual is valued more so than the allegiance to the flag, we will be stuck in the lie of fraudulent commonsense that greases the machinery of power.


Beware the Ides of March

Approximately a month from now, around the time of March 20th, Greece is poised to default, triggering a CDS crisis that could spread like an economic contagion far greater than that which occurred in 2008.  The signs of this have not been buried but written prominently in reliable news sources with daily regularity. I don’t claim to be an economist and I have my share of doubt of the whole profession (courtesy of N.N. Taleb’s critique), but with the macro-level problems that are clear to understand (infinite growth colliding with finite resources, the lack of legislation passed to correct the problems evident in 2008 economic crisis) added to what seems to be occurring in the continual downgrading of value of European assets, not least of all the PIIGS countries like Greece, there is, at the very least, grave concern over how well global economies will fare if this first domino drops.    

I do not claim to know how this is going to play out, it is very possible that some last minute, unforeseen benefactor will bail out Greece, if only to keep their economy running a bit longer.  I accept the unknown in the equation, though I choose not to live my life in utter faith of its panacea.  I am not obsessed or dumbstruck with fear, in the interim period I have done what I could to shelter from the storm and try to be self-sufficient.  My heart is not wholly in it, I still cling to the arts and the aristocratic pleasantries of the life I am accustom to.  I monitor the situation and try to respond accordingly.  This week I bought a propane stove-top burner one uses typically on a camping trip.  I am still significantly lacking in alternative energy sources, an expense I have not yet felt motivated to pursue.  The winter has been mild, and I have enjoyed time spent with friends and family.  

Maybe it is the books I read, the movies I watch: I think about ethics a lot even if I am not, myself, virtuous.  I have lived inside a bubble without much in the way of tangible threat of death.  The survival instinct dulls from lack of attention and the body gets fat and the mind gets soft; ethics is moth-balled, a dusty idea not qualitatively understood.  We have been told to care more about what other people think of us, and other people are mostly thinking about what a bought culture tells them to.  But ethics will once again surely matter when the bubble pops, when the invisible barriers between people vanish, and we are forced to live together on less, with greater threat of death.  History has no precedent for this experiment, cut away from survival and ethics and brought together, globally, into a world where all the prison cells unlock and the warden is dead.  How will man fare when put to this test?  Ideologies will flare up in the vacuum, the weak-minded need something to hold fast to, something bigger than themselves.  

I do not have a favorable opinion of mankind.  I have lived a fantasy that was foolishly squandered by the greed of a few.  The reality is not pretty.  It is a wilderness out there, a wilderness that can define you and make you a real person at last, but it is not pretty. If the wave crashes, all the pretty things will soon be gone.  Life with the friction of death ignites ethics, that whisper I have had in my head all this time.  We tell ourselves stories to remind us what happens when we are forced to live.

I have been living surreptitiously through stories, feeling hunger and dying and tragedy in a heightened but contained environment.  I sense what may happen from these sojourns into the imagination (woven into my memory too, a story of my near-death).  I am stirred awake.  I have felt a thousand deaths.  I have witnessed a thousand acts of heroism and a thousand acts of cowardice, and learned what it is to be alive and restless.  I have had 9/11 and Lehman Brothers puncture my dreams and let the urgency of reality seep through.    

Maybe I have seen too many movies.  This is also possible.  But I have seen firsthand the thinness of civility, the diet of decency, the plague of egoism.  Old culture will cope, the culture that has lived through hard times, it is this new culture set adrift I worry about; the culture of entitlement, the deterioration of community, these jackals in the making.  There is a guy who wrote a book about his firsthand experience in Argentina when it recently went through a full-blown economic collapse.  It was Hobbesian chaos, the crime rates soared so high that the prisons reached capacity and it was anything goes on the streets.  Who is to say what any of us would do if they barricaded ours banks and left us high and dry. I imagine the worst, but not without some justification; lest nature shows us what it is truly made of.

Reboot

From my first philosophical entries up to the latest poetic musings, two themes have kept recurring, defining me in a feverish way: the necessity of ethics and the sanctity of the individual. I suppose I tend towards these themes so forcefully due to their lost importance in this out of whack world of politics as predatory sport and academic rigor mortis.  Even the locked-in devices from which I strive to compose my thoughts provoke some response.  Ethics and individualism are quickly eroding away, a battle taking place inside of me as much as out.  The modern world is not all bad of course, and to an extent I accept what it gives as inevitable and sometimes necessary agitations, to be the gadflies stirring me awake lest I become too fanatic about my solitary ideas.  I live in the world I indict, let the record show I am aware of this surface hypocrisy, but in my defense, asceticism is not an option, not an ethical one at least.  One cannot help but speak the language provided and get caught in its web (when you play by their rules they have already won).

Every so often I break down and need to establish a perimeter of words to (however naïvely) preserve my sacred space.  And so the rant goes…

At some point it was no longer a question of having something to say and someone to process it.  It is still language, it is still talking and writing and reading, but what has changed is the goal: where once the text mattered, the subtext now dominates. Each utterance has become a territorial pissing that taunts the yet to be expressed to do the same.  Like pups stepping over each other for the same teat, to be there first, we pivot our value around the concept of outward acknowledgement: the more followers, the more reblogs, the more likes, and then the next day you start over again, you keep going back daily, hourly, at speeds incommensurable with quality or craftsmanship - just be there first.  We go at these speeds not because we have so much to say, but because we feel the need to remain relevant, as if we would dissolve entirely without a status update. With no time to cultivate an inner life outside of the exhibition, a whole generation has been raised in this accelerating culture, and, if nothing changes, they will raise the next generation in the only manner they have been taught, refining away any semblance of the individual.  It is in the hesitations, the individual resides.

The flaw we bear is not recognizing that it is a choice, and how this choice comes to inform not just our online personas but our perception of what is valuable, and ethical, and reasonable in every facet of human activity.  It is simple but so rarely given voice:  you don’t need to prove yourself to the world, if anything the world needs to prove itself to you.  If it has value, it should radiate inside you and ask nothing more than that you find your own path of least resistance.  Find happiness irrespective of how minor it may seem.  

To some this is self-delusion; to me, self-clarity.  There is a seductive inclination to be defined one way or the other, supplant one narrative for another: if not the academic marvel than the starving artist, if not the wealthy than the ascetic. It is considered a slight to call someone a jack of all trades, to weave through life without a pliable narrative that may be socially digested.  The flaw is in thinking in regards to a narrative foremost, being overly concerned with how you are read, rather than reading yourself out and editing away to your own familiar voice.  Abandon all narratives and follow your childish instinct to play.  Use whatever capacities you have to offset roadblocks to this pursuit.  Rather, see more clearly your goal, how little is required to be happy once you have whittled away the antagonisms (competition and antagonism reduced to sport).  A clarity of self sees that one lives every day through peaks and valleys of relative satisfaction, that one lives in the crevices of stories not the well-rehearsed anecdotes and finding a way to live pleasurably in the immediate and not the secondhand account ought to be the true occupation of your life. This kind of thinking may derail the ten year plan, the jockeying for position if such a position is in service only of keeping you busy and hungry for the carrot dangled in font of you.  So be it.  Defy the anecdotal life.

The pleasure of life has become secondary, what good is it to fight for a future when the present goes unopened?  Why forfeit the now, and the ability to ferret out the good in every moment?  A resourceful inner life stays with you no matter the climate, protects you better than an army. But here the rhetoric begs an antagonism I must step back from, for it is not either/or, but weaving through with a part of you always alive and playful, being the justification for any pursuit for higher level petitioning, having something to show for, something to call upon rather than empty rhetoric.  When you say life is important, dignity is important, basic human rights are important you should not meme the idea, but hold yourself up as material evidence.  It is so easy to become the ghost haunting a body still alive, to ghost all values in pursuit of some nominal gain.  It is scary how easy it is to cease to be a person and become a personage: the body dies and people can see it, smell it; when the life inside it dies it can go a lifetime unreported so long as a rudimentary set of outward markers are achieved.

Take pride in being a slacker, a jack of all trades, a melancholic, a resigned member of a society that is in such a big hurry to say nothing long enough for you to forget there is anything else to think, feel, or be.  A toast to all the thoughts left unsaid, and to those thoughts that if uttered, would still go unheard.